Enough! I shall never offend again in this way. In reality I am much more inclined to laugh than shudder over this meeting; for meanwhile the third of our self-invited guests had with stertorous puffing risen to the stage, for all the world like a demon out of a trap-door, specially when he entered the zone of that unearthly light. And there they stood in a row, like delinquents at judgement, while we, the true culprits, had only passively to accept explanations. Of course these were plausible enough. Dollmann having seen the yacht in port that morning had called on his return from Memmert to ask us to supper. Finding no one aboard, and concluding we were ashore, he had meant to leave a note for Davies in the cabin. His friend, Herr Bhme, 'the distinguished engineer', was anxious to see over the little vessel that had come so far, and he knew that Davies would not mind the intrusion. Not at all, said Davies; would not they stop and have drinks? No, but would we come to supper at Dollmann's villa? With pleasure, said Davies, but we had to change first. Up to this point we had been masters of the situation; but here von Brning, who alone of the three appeared to be entirely at his ease, made the retour offensif.
'Where have you been?' he asked.
'Oh, rowing about since the fog cleared,' said Davies.
I suppose he thought that evasion would pass muster, but as he spoke, I noticed to my horror that a stray beam of light was playing on the bunch of white cotton-waste that adorned one of the rowlocks: for we had forgotten to remove these tell-tale appendages. So I added: 'After ducks again'; and, lifting one of the guns, let the light flash on its barrel. To my own ears my voice sounded husky and distant.
'Always ducks,' laughed von Brning. 'No luck, I suppose?'
'No,' said Davies; 'but it ought to be a good time after sunset—'
'What, with a rising tide and the banks covered?'
'We saw some,' said Davies, sullenly.
'I tell you what, my zealous young sportsmen, you're rash to leave your boat at anchor here after dark without a light. I came aboard to find your lamp and set it.'
'Oh, thanks,' said Davies; 'we took it with us.'
'To see to shoot by?'
We laughed uncomfortably, and Davies compassed a wonderful German phrase to the effect that 'it might come in useful'. Happily the matter went no farther, for the position was a strained one at the best, and would not bear lengthening. The launch went alongside, and the invaders evacuated British soil, looking, for all von Brning's flippant nonchalance, a rather crestfallen party. So much so, that, acute as was my anxiety, I took courage to whisper to Davies, while the transhipment of Herr Bhme was proceeding: 'Ask Dollmann to stay while we dress.'
'Why?' he whispered.
'I say, Herr Dollmann,' said Davies, 'won't you stay on board with us while we dress? There's a lot to tell you, and—and we can follow on with you when we're ready.'
Dollmann had not yet stepped into the launch. 'With pleasure,' he said; but there followed an ominous silence, broken by von Brning.
'Oh, come along, Dollmann, and let them alone,' he said brusquely. 'You'll be horribly in the way down there, and we shall never get any supper if you keep them yarning.'
'And it's now a quarter-past eight o'clock,' grumbled Herr Bhme from his corner behind the hood. Dollmann submitted, and excused himself, and the launch steamed away.
'I think I twig,' said Davies, as he helped, almost hoisted, me aboard. 'Rather risky though—eh?'
'I knew they'd object—only wanted to make sure.'
The cabin was just as we had left it, our shore clothes lying in disorder on the bunks, a locker or two half open.
'Well, I wonder what they did down here,' said Davies.
For my part I went straight to the bookshelf.
'Does anything strike you about this?' I asked, kneeling on the sofa.
'Logbook's shifted,' said Davies. 'I'll swear it was at the end before.'
'That doesn't matter. Anything else?'
'By Jove!—where's Dollmann's book?'
'It's here all right, but not where it should be.' I had been reading it, you remember, overnight, and in the morning had replaced it in full view among the other books. I now found it behind them, in a wrenched attitude, which showed that someone who had no time to spare had pushed it roughly inwards.
'What do you make of that?' said Davies.
He produced long drinks, and we allowed ourselves ten minutes of absolute rest, stretched at full length on the sofas.
'They don't trust Dollmann,' I said. 'I spotted that at Memmert even.'
'First, when they were talking about you and me. He was on his defence, and in a deuce of a funk, too. Bhme was pressing him hard. Again, at the end, when he left the room followed by Grimm, who I'm certain was sent to watch him. It was while he was away that the other two arranged that rendezvous for the night of the 25th. And again just now, when you asked him to stay. I believe it's working out as I thought it would. Von Brning, and through him Bhme (who is the 'engineer from Bremen'), know the story of that short cut and suspect that it was an attempt on your life. Dollmann daren't confess to that, because, morality apart, it could only have been prompted by extreme necessity—that is, by the knowledge that you were really dangerous, and not merely an inquisitive stranger. Now we know his motive; but they don't yet. The position of that book proves it.'
'He shoved it in?'
'To prevent them seeing it. There's no earthly reason why they should have hidden it.'
'Then we're getting on,' said Davies. 'That shows they know his real name, or why should he shove the book in? But they don't know he wrote a book, and that I have a copy.'
'At any rate he thinks they don't; we can't say more than that.'
'And what does he think about me—and you?'
'That's the point. Ten to one he's in tortures of doubt, and would give a fortune to have five minutes' talk alone with you to see how the land lies and get your version of the short cut incident. But they won't let him. They want to watch him in our company and us in his; you see it's an interesting reunion for you and him.'
'Well, let's get into these beastly clothes for it,' groaned Davis. 'I shall have a plunge overboard.'
Something drastic was required, and I followed his example, curious as the hour was for bathing.
'I believe I know what happened just now,' said I, as we plied rough towels in the warmth below. 'They steamed up and found nobody on board. "I'll leave a note," says Dollmann. "No independent communications," say they (or think they), "we'll come too, and take the chance of inspecting this hornets' nest." Down they go, and Dollmann, who knows what to look for first, sees that damning bit of evidence staring him in the face. They look casually at the shelf among other things—examine the logbook, say—and he manages to push his own book out of sight. But he couldn't replace it when the interruption came. The action would have attracted attention then, and Bhme made him leave the cabin in advance, you know.'
'This is all very well,' said Davies, pausing in his toilet, 'but do they guess how we've spent the day? By Jove, Carruthers, that chart with the square cut out; there it is on the rack!'
'We must chance it, and bluff for all we're worth,' I said. The fact was that Davies could not be brought to realize that he had done anything very remarkable that day; yet those fourteen sinuous miles traversed blindfold, to say nothing of the return journey and my own exploits, made up an achievement audacious and improbable enough to out-distance suspicion. Nevertheless, von Brning's banter had been disquieting, and if an inkling of our expedition had crossed his mind or theirs, there were ways of testing us which it would require all our effrontery to defeat.
'What are you looking for?' said Davies. I was at the collar and stud stage, but had broken off to study the time-table which we had bought that morning.
'Somebody insists on coming by the night train to somewhere, on the 25th,' I reminded him. 'Bhme, von Brning, and Grimm are to meet the Somebody.'
'At a railway station! I don't know where. They seemed to take it for granted. But it must be somewhere on the sea, because Bhme said, "the tide serves."'
'It may be anywhere from Emden to Hamburg.' [See Map B]
'Ho, there's a limit; it's probably somewhere near. Grimm was to come, and he's at Memmert.'
'Here's the map... Emden and Norddeich are the only coast stations till you get to Wilhelmshaven—no, to Carolinensiel; but those are a long way east.'
'And Emden's a long way south. Say Norddeich then; but according to this there's no train there after 6.15 p.m.; that's hardly "night". When's high tide on the 25th?'
'Let's see—8.30 here to-night—Norddeich'll be the same. Somewhere between 10.30 and 11 on the 25th.'
'There's a train at Emden at 9.22 from Leer and the south, and one at 10.50 from the north.'
'Are you counting on another fog?' said Davies, mockingly.
'No; but I want to know what our plans are.'
'Can't we wait till this cursed inspection's over?'
'No, we can't; we should come to grief.' This was no barren truism, for I was ready with a plan of my own, though reluctant to broach it to Davies.
Meanwhile, ready or not, we had to start. The cabin we left as it was, changing nothing and hiding nothing; the safest course to take, we thought, in spite of the risk of further search. But, as usual, I transferred my diary to my breast-pocket, and made sure that the two official letters from England were safe in a compartment of it.
'What do you propose?' I asked, when we were in the dinghy again.
'It's a case of "as you were",' said Davies. 'To-day's trip was a chance we shall never get again. We must go back to last night's decision—tell them that we're going to stay on here for a bit. Shooting, I suppose we shall have to say.'
'And courting?' I suggested.
'Well, they know all about that. And then we must watch for a chance of tackling Dollmann privately. Not to-night, because we want time to consider those clues of yours.'
'"Consider"?' I said: 'that's putting it mildly.'
We were at the ladder, and what a languid stiffness oppressed me I did not know till I touched its freezing rungs, each one of which seared my sore palms like red-hot iron.
The overdue steamer was just arriving as we set foot on the quay. 'And yet, by Jove! why not to-night?' pursued Davies, beginning to stride up the pier at a pace I could not imitate.
'Steady on,' I protested; 'and, look here, I disagree altogether. I believe to-day has doubled our chances, but unless we alter our tactics it has doubled our risks. We've involved ourselves in too tangled a web. I don't like this inspection, and I fear that foxy old Bhme who prompted it. The mere fact of their inviting us shows that we stand badly; for it runs in the teeth of Brning's warning at Bensersiel, and smells uncommonly like arrest. There's a rift between Dollmann and the others, but it's a ticklish matter to drive our wedge in; as to to-night, hopeless; they're on the watch, and won't give us a chance. And after all, do we know enough? We don't know why he fled from England and turned German. It may have been an extraditable crime, but it may not. Supposing he defies us? There's the girl, you see—she ties our hands, and if he once gets wind of that, and trades on our weakness, the game's up.'
'What are you driving at?'
'We want to detach him from Germany, but he'll probably go to any lengths rather than abandon his position here. His attempt on you is the measure of his interest in it. Now, is to-day to be wasted?' We were passing through the public gardens, and I dropped on to a seat for a moment's rest, crackling dead leaves under me. Davies remained standing, and pecked at the gravel with his toe.
'We have got two valuable clues,' I went on; 'that rendezvous on the 25th is one, and the name Esens is the other. We may consider them to eternity; I vote we act on them.'
'How?' said Davies. 'We're under a searchlight here; and if we're caught—'
'Your plan—ugh!—it's as risky as mine, and more so,' I replied, rising with a jerk, for a spasm of cramp took me. 'We must separate,' I added, as we walked on. 'We want, at one stroke, to prove to them that we're harmless, and to get a fresh start. I go back to London.'
'To London!' said Davies. We were passing under an arc lamp, and, for the dismay his face showed, I might have said Kamchatka.
'Well, after all, it's where I ought to be at this moment,' I observed.
'Yes, I forgot. And me?'
'You can't get on without me, so you lay up the yacht here—taking your time.'
'After making inquiries about Dollmann's past I double back as somebody else, and follow up the clues.'
'You'll have to be quick,' said Davies, abstractedly.
'I can just do it in time for the 25th.'
'When you say "making inquiries",' he continued, looking straight before him, 'I hope you don't mean setting other people on his track?'
'He's fair game!' I could not help saying; for there were moments when I chafed under this scrupulous fidelity to our self-denying ordinance.
'He's our game, or nobody's,' said Davies, sharply.
'Oh, I'll keep the secret,' I rejoined.
'Let's stick together,' he broke out. 'I shall make a muck of it without you. And how are we to communicate—meet?'
'Somehow—that can wait. I know it's a leap in the dark, but there's safety in darkness.'
'Carruthers! what are we talking about? If they have the ghost of a notion where we have been to-day, you give us away by packing off to London. They'll think we know their secret and are clearing out to make use of it. That means arrest, if you like!'
'Pessimist! Haven't I written proof of good faith in my pocket—official letters of recall, received to-day? It's one deception the less, you see; for those letters may have been opened; skilfully done it's impossible to detect. When in doubt, tell the truth!'
'It's a rum thing how often it pays in this spying business,' said Davies, thoughtfully.
We had been tramping through deserted streets under the glare of electricity, I with my leaden shuffle, he with the purposeful forward stoop and swinging arms that always marked his gait ashore.
'Well, what's it to be?' I said. 'Here's the Schwannalle.'
'I don't like it,' said he; 'but I trust your judgement.'
We turned slowly down, running over a few last points where prior agreement was essential. As we stood at the very gate of the villa: 'Don't commit yourself to dates,' I said; 'say nothing that will prevent you from being here at least a week hence with the yacht still afloat.' And my final word, as we waited at the door for the bell to be answered, was: 'Don't mind what I say. If things look queer we may have to lighten the ship.'
'Lighten?' whispered Davies; 'oh, I hope I shan't bosh it.'
'I hope I shan't get cramp,' I muttered between my teeth.
It will be remembered that Davies had never been to the villa before.
THE door of a room on the ground floor was opened to us by a man-servant. As we entered the rattle of a piano stopped, and a hot wave of mingled scent and cigar smoke struck my nostrils. The first thing I noticed over Davies's shoulder, as he preceded me into the room, was a woman - the source of the perfume I decided—turning round from the piano as he passed it and staring him up and down with a disdainful familiarity that I at once hotly resented. She was in evening dress, pronounced in cut and colour; had a certain exuberant beauty, not wholly ascribable to nature, and a notable lack of breeding. Another glance showed me Dollmann putting down a liqueur glass of brandy, and rising from a low chair with something of a start; and another, von Brning, lying back in a corner of a sofa, smoking; on the same sofa, vis—vis to him, was—yes, of course it was—Clara Dollmann; but how their surroundings alter people, I caught myself thinking. For the rest, I was aware that the room was furnished with ostentation, and was stuffy with stove-engendered warmth. Davies steered a straight course for Dollmann, and shook his hand with businesslike resolution. Then he tacked across to the sofa, abandoning me in the face of the enemy.
'Mr—?' said Dollmann.
'Carruthers,' I answered, distinctly. 'I was with Davies in the boat just now, but I don't think he introduced me. And now he has forgotten again,' I added, dryly, turning towards Davies, who, having presented himself to Frulein Dollmann, was looking feebly from her to von Brning, the picture of tongue-tied awkwardness. (The commander nodded to me and stretched himself with a yawn.)
'Von Brning told me about you,' said Dollmann, ignoring my illusion, 'but I was not quite sure of the name. No; it was not an occasion for formalities, was it?' He gave a sudden, mirthless laugh. I thought him flushed and excitable: yet, seen in a normal light, he was in some respects a pleasant surprise, the remarkable conformation of the head giving an impression of intellectual power and restless, almost insanely restless, energy.
'What need?' I said. 'I have heard so much about you from Davies—and Commander von Brning—that we seem to be old friends already.'
He shot a doubtful look at me, and a diversion came from the piano.
'And now, for Heaven's sake,' cried the lady of the perfume, 'let us join Herr Bhme at supper!'
'Let me present you to my wife,' said Dollmann.
So this was the stepmother; unmistakably German, I may add. I made my bow, and underwent much the same sort of frank scrutiny as Davies, only that it was rather more favourable to me, and ended in a carmine smile.
There was a general movement and further introductions. Davies was led to the stepmother, and I found myself confronting the daughter with quickened pulses, and a sudden sense of added complexity in the issues. I had, of course, made up my mind to ignore our meeting of yesterday, and had assumed that she would do the same. And she did ignore it—we met as utter strangers; nor did I venture (for other eyes were upon us) to transmit any sign of intelligence to her. But the next moment I was wondering if I had not fallen into a trap. She had promised not to tell, but under what circumstances? I saw the scene again; the misty flats, the spruce little sail-boat and its sweet young mistress, fresh as a dewy flower, but blanched and demoralized by a horrid fear, appealing to my honour so to act that we three should never meet again, promising to be silent, but as much in her own interest as ours, and under that implied condition which I had only equivocally refused. The condition was violated, not by her fault or ours, but violated. She was free to help her father against us, and was she helping him? What troubled me was the change in her; that she—how can I express it without offence?—was less in discord with her surroundings than she should have been; that in dress, pose and manner (as we exchanged some trivialities) she was too near reflecting the style of the other woman; that, in fact, she in some sort realized my original conception of her, so brutally avowed to Davies, so signally, as I had thought, falsified. In the sick perplexity that this discovery caused me I dare say I looked as foolish as Davies had done, and more so, for the close heat of the room and its tainted atmosphere, succeeding so abruptly to the wholesome nip of the outside air, were giving me a faintness which this moral check lessened my power to combat. Von Brning's face wore a sneering smile that I winced under; and, turning, I found another pair of eyes fixed on me, those of Herr Bhme, whose squat figure had appeared at a pair of folding doors leading to an adjoining room. Napkin in hand, he was taking in the scene before him with fat benevolence, but exceeding shrewdness. I instantly noticed a faint red weal relieving the ivory of his bald head; and I had suffered too often in the same quarter myself to mistake its origin, namely, our cabin doorway.
'This is the other young explorer, Bhme,' said von Brning. 'Herr Davies kidnapped him a month ago, and bullied and starved him into submission; they'll drown together yet. I believe his sufferings have been terrible.'
'His sufferings are over,' I retorted. 'I've mutinied—deserted—haven't I, Davies?' I caught Davies gazing with solemn gaucherie at Miss Dollmann.
'Oh, what?' he stammered. I explained in English. 'Oh, yes, Carruthers has to go home,' he said, in his vile lingo.
No one spoke for a moment, and even von Brning had no persiflage ready.
'Well, are we never going to have supper?' said madame, impatiently; and with that we all moved towards the folding doors. There had been little formality in the proceedings so far, and there was less still in the supper-room. Bhme resumed his repast with appetite, and the rest of us sat down apparently at random, though an underlying method was discernible. As it worked out, Dollmann was at one end of the small table, with Davies on his right and Bhme on his left; Frau Dollmann at the other, with me on her right and von Brning on her left. The seventh personage, Frulein Dollmann, was between the commander and Davies on the side opposite to me. No servants appeared, and we waited on ourselves. I have a vague recollection of various excellent dishes, and a distinct one of abundance of wine. Someone filled me a glass of champagne, and I confess that I drained it with honest avidity, blessing the craftsman who coaxed forth the essence, the fruit that harboured it, the sun that warmed it.
'Why are you going so suddenly?' said von Brning to me across the table.
'Didn't I tell you we had to call here for letters? I got mine this morning, and among others a summons back to work. Of course I must obey.' (I found myself speaking in a frigid silence.) 'The annoying thing was that there were two letters, and if I had only come here two days sooner I should have only got the first, which gave me an extension.'
'You are very conscientious. How will they know?'
'Ah, but the second's rather urgent.'
There was another uncomfortable silence, broken by Dollmann.
'By the way, Herr Davies,' he began, 'I ought to apologize to you for—'
This was no business of mine, and the less interest I took in it the better; so I turned to Frau Dollmann and abused the fog.
'Have you been in the harbour all day?' she asked, 'then how was it you did not visit us? Was Herr Davies so shy?' (Curiosity or malice?)
'Quite the contrary; but I was,' I answered coldly; 'you see, we knew Herr Dollmann was away, and we really only called here to get my letters; besides, we did not know your address.' I looked at Clara and found her talking gaily to von Brning, deaf seemingly to our little dialogue.
'Anyone would have told you it,' said madame, raising her eyebrows.
'I dare say; but directly after breakfast the fog came on, and—well, one cannot leave a yacht alone in a fog,' I said, with professional solidity.
Von Brning pricked up his ears at this. 'I'll be hanged if that was your maxim,' he laughed; 'you're too fond of the shore!'
I sent him a glance of protest, as though to say: 'What's the use of your warning if you won't let me act on it?'
For, of course, my excuses were meant chiefly for his consumption, and Frulein Dollmann's. That the lady I addressed them to found them unpalatable was not my fault.
'Then you sat in your wretched little cabin all day?' she persisted.
'All day,' I said, brazenly; 'it was the safest thing to do.' And I looked again at Frulein Dollmann, frankly and squarely. Our eyes met, and she dropped hers instantly, but not before I had learnt something; for if ever I saw misery under a mask it was on her face. No; she had not told.
I think I puzzled the stepmother, who shrugged her white shoulders, and said in that case she wondered we had dared to leave our precious boat and come to supper. If we knew Frisian fogs as well as she did—Oh, I explained, we were not so nervous as that; and as for supper on shore, if she only knew what a Spartan life we led—
'Oh, for mercy's sake, don't tell me about it!' she cried, with a grimace; 'I hate the mention of yachts. When I think of that dreadful Medusa coming from Hamburg—' I sympathized with half my attention, keeping one strained ear open for developments on my right. Davies, I knew, was in the thick of it, and none too happy under Bhme's eye, but working manfully. 'My fault'—'sudden squall'—'quite safe', were some of the phrases I caught; while I was aware, to my alarm, that he was actually drawing a diagram of something with bread-crumbs and table-knives. The subject seemed to gutter out to an awkward end, and suddenly Bhme, who was my right-hand neighbour, turned to me. 'You are starting for England to-morrow morning?' he said.
'Yes,' I answered; 'there is a steamer at 8.15, I believe.'
'That is good. We shall be companions.'
'Are you going to England, too, sir?' I asked, with hot misgivings.
'No, no! I am going to Bremen; but we shall travel together as far as—you go by Amsterdam, I suppose?—as far as Leer, then. That will be very pleasant.' I fancied there was a ghoulish gusto in his tone.
'Very,' I assented. 'You are making a short stay here, then?'
'As long as usual. I visit the work at Memmert once a month or so, spend a night with my friend Dollmann and his charming family' (he leered round him), 'and return.'
Whether I was right or wrong in my next step I shall never know, but obeying a strong instinct, 'Memmert,' I said; 'do tell me more about Memmert. We heard a good deal about it from Commander von Brning; but—'
'He was discreet, I expect,' said Bhme.
'He left off at the most interesting part.'
'What's that about me?' joined in von Brning.
'I was saying that we're dying to know more about Memmert, aren't we, Davies?'
'Oh, I don't know,' said Davies, evidently aghast at my temerity; but I did not mind that. If he roughed my suit, so much the better; I intended to rough his.
'You gave us plenty of history, commander, but you did not bring it up to date.' The triple alliance laughed, Dollmann boisterously.
'Well,' said von Brning; 'I gave you very good reasons, and you acquiesced.'
'And now he is trying to pump me,' said Bhme, with his rasping chuckle.
'Wait a bit, sir; I have an excuse. The commander was not only mysterious but inaccurate. I appeal to you, Herr Dollmann, for it was apropos of you. When we fell in with him at Bensersiel, Davies asked him if you were at home, and he said "No." When would you be back? Probably soon; but he did not know when.'
'Oh, he said that?' said Dollmann.
'Well, only three days later we arrive at Norderney, and find you have returned that very day, but have gone to Memmert. Again (by the way) the mysterious Memmert! But more than ever mysterious now, for in the evening, not only you and Herr Bhme—'
'What penetration!' laughed von Brning.
'But also Commander von Brning, pay us a visit in his launch, all coming from Memmert!'
'And you infer?' said von Brning.
'Why, that you must have known at Bensersiel—only three days ago—exactly when Herr Dollmann was coming back, having an appointment at Memmert with him for to-day.'
'Which I wished to conceal from you?'
'Yes, and that's why I'm so inquisitive; it's entirely your own fault.'
'So it seems,' said he, 'with mock humility; 'but fill your glass and go on, young man. Why should I want to deceive you?'
'That's just what I want to know. Come, confess now; wasn't there something important afoot to-day at Memmert? Something to do with the gold? You were inspecting it, sorting it, weighing it? Or I know! You were transporting it secretly to the mainland?'
'Not a very good day for that! But softly, Herr Carruthers; no fishing for admissions. Who said we had found any gold?'
'Well, have you? There!'
'That's better! Nothing like candour, my young investigator. But I am afraid, having no authority, I cannot assist you at all. Better try Herr Bhme again. I'm only a casual onlooker.'
'Ah! you remember that? (He remembers everything!) With a few shares, then; but with no expert knowledge. Now, Bhme is the consulting engineer. Rescue me, Bhme.'
'I cannot disclaim expert knowledge,' said Bhme, with humorous gravity; 'but I disclaim responsibility. Now, Herr Dollmann is chairman of the company.'
'And I,' said Dollmann, with a noisy laugh, 'must fall back on the shareholders, whose interests I have to guard. One can't be too careful in these confidential matters.'
'Here's one who gives his consent,' I said. 'Can't he represent the rest?'
'Extorted by torture,' said von Brning. 'I retract.'
'Don't mind them, Herr Carruthers,' cried Frau Dollmann, 'they are making fun of you; but I will give you a hint; no woman can keep a secret—'
'Ah!' I cried, triumphantly, 'you have been there?'
'I? Not I; I detest the sea! But Clara has.' Everyone looked at Clara, who in her turn looked in naive bewilderment from me to her father.
'Indeed?' I said, more soberly, 'but perhaps she is not a free agent.'
'Perfectly free!' said Dollmann.
'I have only been there once, some time ago,' said she, 'and I saw no gold at all.'
'Guarded,' I observed. 'I beg your pardon; I mean that perhaps you only saw what you were allowed to see. And, in any case, the frulein has no expert knowledge and no responsibility, and, perhaps, no shares. Her province is to be charming, not to hold financial secrets.'
'I have done my best to help you,' said the stepmother.
'They're all against us, Davies.'
'Oh, chuck it, Carruthers!' said Davies, in English.
'He's insatiable,' said von Brning, and there was a pause; clearly, they meant to elicit more.
'Well, I shall draw my own conclusions,' I said.
'This is interesting,' said von Brning, 'in what sense?'
'It begins to dawn on me that you made fools of us at Bensersiel. Don't you remember, Davies, what an interest he took in all our doings? I wonder if he feared our exploring propensities might possibly lead us to Memmert?'
'Upon my word, this is the blackest ingratitude. I thought I made myself particularly agreeable to you.'
'Yes, indeed; especially about the duck shooting! How useful your local man would have been—both to us and to you!'
'Go on,' said the commander, imperturbably.
'Wait a moment; I'm thinking it out.' And thinking it out I was in deadly earnest, for all my levity, as I pressed my hand on my burning forehead and asked myself where I was to stop in this seductive but perilous fraud. To carry it too far was to court complete exposure; to stop too soon was equally compromising.
'What is he talking about, and why go on with this ridiculous mystery?' said Frau Dollmann.
'I was thinking about this supper party, and the way it came about,' I pursued, slowly.
'Nothing to complain of, I hope?' said Dollmann.
'Of course not! Impromptu parties are always the pleasantest, and this one was delightfully impromptu. Now I bet you I know its origin! Didn't you discuss us at Memmert? And didn't one of you suggest—'One would almost think you had been there,' said Dollmann. 'You may thank your vile climate that we weren't,' I retorted, laughing. 'But, as I was saying, didn't one of you suggest—which of you? Well, I'm sure it wasn't the commander—'
'Why not?' said Bhme.
'It's difficult to explain—an intuition, say—I am sure he stood up for us; and I don't think it was Herr Dollmann, because he knows Davies already, and he's always on the spot; and, in short I'll swear it was Herr Bhme, who is leaving early to-morrow. and had never seen either of us. It was you, sir, who proposed that we should be asked to supper to-night—for inspection?'
'Inspection?' said Bhme; 'what an extraordinary idea!'
'You can't deny it, though! And one thing more; in the harbour just now—no—this is going too far; I shall mortally offend you.' I gave way to hearty laughter.
'Come, let's have it. Your hallucinations are diverting.'
'If you insist; but this is rather a delicate matter. You know we were a little surprised to find you all on board; and you, Herr Bhme, did you always take such a deep interest in small yachts? I am afraid that it was at a certain sacrifice of comfort that you inspected ours!' And I glanced at the token he bore of his encounter with our lintel. There was a burst of pent-up merriment. in which Dollmann took the loudest share.
'I warned you, Bhme,' he said.
The engineer took the joke in the best possible part. 'We owe you apologies,' he conceded.
'Don't mention it,' said Davies.
'He_ doesn't mind,' I said; 'I'm the injured one. I'm sure you never suspected Davies, who could?' (Who indeed? I was on firm ground there.)
'The point is, what did you take me for?'
'Perhaps we take you for it still,' said von Brning.
'Oho! Still suspicious? Don't drive me to extremities.'
'When I get back to London I shall go to Lloyd's! I haven't forgotten that flaw in the title.' There was an impressive silence.
'Gentlemen,' said Dollmann, with exaggerated solemnity, 'we must come to terms with this formidable young man. What do you say?'
'Take me to Memmert,' I exclaimed. 'Those are my terms!'
'Take you to Memmert? But I thought you were starting for England to-morrow?'
'I ought to; but I'll stay for that.'
'You said it was urgent. Your conscience is very elastic.'
'That's my affair. Will you take me to Memmert?'
'What do you say, gentlemen?' Bhme nodded. 'I think we owe some reparation. Under promise of absolute secrecy, then?'
'Of course, now that you trust me. But you'll show me everything—honour bright—wreck, depot, and all?'
'Everything; if you don't object to a diver's dress.'
'Victory!' I cried, in triumph. 'We've won our point, Davies. And now, gentlemen, I don't mind saying that as far as I am concerned the joke's at an end; and, in spite of your kind offer, I must start for England to-morrow' under the good Herr Bhme's wing. And in case my elastic conscience troubles you (for I see you think me a weather-cock) here are the letters received this morning, establishing my identity as a humble but respectable clerk in the British Civil Service, summoned away from his holiday by a tyrannical superior.' (I pulled out my letters and tossed them to Dollmann.) 'Ah, you don't read English easily, perhaps? I dare say Herr Bhme does.'
Leaving Bhme to study dates, post-marks, and contents to his heart's content, and unobserved, I turned to sympathize with my fair neighbour, who complained that her head was going round; and no wonder. But at this juncture, and very much to my surprise, Davies struck in.
'I should like to go to Memmert,' he said.
'You?' said von Brning. 'Now I'm surprised at that.'
'But you won't be staying here either, Davies,' I objected.
'Yes, I shall,' said Davies. 'Why, I told you I should. If you leave me in the lurch like this I must have time to look round.'
'You needn't pretend that you cannot sail alone,' said von Brning.
'It's much more fun with two; I think I shall wire for another friend. Meanwhile, I should like to see Memmert.'
'That's only an excuse, I'm afraid,' said I.
'I want to shoot ducks too,' pursued Davies, reddening. 'I always have wanted to; and you promised to help in that, commander.'
'You can't get out of it now,' I laughed.
'Certainly not,' said he, unmoved; 'but, honestly, I should advise Herr Davies, if he is ever going to get home this season, to make the best of this fine weather.'
'It's too fine,' said Davies; 'I prefer wind. If I cannot get a friend I think I shall stop cruising, leave the yacht here, and come back for her next year.
There was some mute telegraphy between the allies.
'You can leave her in my charge,' said Dollmann, 'and start with your friend to-morrow.'
'Thanks; but there is no hurry,' said Davies, growing redder than ever. 'I like Norderney—and we might have another sail in your dinghy, frulein,' he blurted out.
'Thank you,' she said, in that low dry voice I had heard yesterday; 'but I think I shall not be sailing again—it is getting too cold.'
'Oh, no!' said Davies, 'it's splendid.' But she had turned to von Brning, and took no notice.
'Well, send me a report about Memmert, Davies,' I laughed, with the idea of drawing attention from his rebuff. But Davies, having once delivered his soul, seemed to have lost his shyness, and only gazed at his neighbour with the placid, dogged expression that I knew so well. That was the end of those delicate topics; and conviviality grew apace.
I am not indifferent at any time to good wine and good cheer, nor was it for lack of pressing that I drank as sparingly as I was able, and pretended to a greater elation than I felt. Nor certainly was it from any fine scruples as to the character of the gentleman whose hospitality we were receiving—scruples which I knew affected Davies, who ate little and drank nothing. In any case he was adamant in such matters, and I verily believe would at any time have preferred our own little paraffin-flavoured messes to the best dinner in the world. It was a very wholesome caution that warned me not to abuse the finest brain tonic ever invented by the wit of man. I had finessed Memmert, as one finesses a low card when holding a higher; but I had too much respect for our adversaries to trade on any fancied security we had won thereby. They had allowed me to win the trick, but I credited them with a better knowledge of my hand than they chose to show. On the other hand I hugged the axiom that in all conflicts it is just as fatal to underrate the difficulties of your enemy as to overrate your own. Their chief one—and it multiplied a thousandfold the excitement of the contest—was, I felt sure, the fear of striking in error; of using a sledge-hammer to break a nut. In breaking it they risked publicity, and publicity, I felt convinced, was death to their secret. So, even supposing they had detected the finesse, and guessed that we had in fact got wind of imperial designs; yet, even so, I counted on immunity so long as they thought we were on the wrong scent, with Memmert, and Memmert alone, as the source of our suspicions.
Had it been necessary I was prepared to encourage such a view, admitting that the cloth von Brning wore had made his connexion with Memmert curious, and had suggested to Davies, for I should have put it on him, with his naval enthusiasms, that the wreck-works were really naval-defence works. If they went farther, and suspected that we had tried to go to Memmert that very day, the position was worse, but not desperate; for the fear that they would take the final step and suppose that we had actually got there and overhead their talk, I flatly refused to entertain, until I should find myself under arrest.
Precisely how near we came to it I shall never rightly know; but I have good reason to believe that we trembled on the verge. The main issue was fully enough for me, and it was only in passing flashes that I followed the play of the warring under-currents. And yet, looking back on the scene, I would warrant there was no party of seven in Europe that evening where a student of human documents would have found so rich a field, such noble and ignoble ambitions, such base and holy fears, aye, and such pitiful agonies of the spirit. Roughly divided though we were into separate camps, no two of us were wholly at one. Each wore a mask in the grand imposture; excepting, I am inclined to think, the lady on my left, who, outside her own well-being, which she cultivated without reserve, had, as far as I could see, but one axe to grind—the intimacy of von Brning and her stepdaughter—and ground it openly.
Not even Bhme and von Brning were wholly at one; and as moral distances are reckoned, Davies and I were leagues apart. Sitting between Dollmann and Dollmann's daughter, the living and breathing symbols of the two polar passions he had sworn to harmonize, he kept an equilibrium which, though his aims were nominally mine, I could not attain to. For me the man was the central figure; if I had attention to spare it was on him that I bestowed it; groping disgustfully after his hidden springs of action, noting the evidences of great gifts squandered and prostituted; questioning where he was most vulnerable; whom he feared most, us or his colleagues; whether he was open to remorse or shame; or whether he meditated further crime. The girl was incidental. After the first shock of surprise I had soon enough discovered that she, like the rest, had assumed a disguise; for she was far too innocent to sustain the deception; and yesterday was fresh in my memory. I was forced to continue turning her assumed character to account; but it would be pharisaical in me to say that I rose to any moral heights in her regard—wine and excitement had deadened my better nature to that extent. I thought she looked prettier than ever, and, as time passed, I fell into a cynical carelessness about her. This glimpse of her home life, and the desperate expedients to which she was driven (whether by compulsion or from her own regard for Davies) to repel and dismiss him, did not strike me as they might have done as the crowning argument in favour of the course we had adopted the night before, that of compassing our end without noise and scandal, disarming Dollmann, but aiding him to escape from the allies he had betrayed. To Davies, the man, if not a pure abstraction, was at most a noxious vermin to be trampled on for the public good; while the girl, in her blackguardly surroundings, and with her sinister future, had become the very source of his impulse.
And the other players? Bhme was my abstraction, the fortress whose foundations we were sapping, the embodiment of that systematized force which is congenital to the German people. In von Brning, the personal factor was uppermost. Callous as I was this evening, I could not help wondering occasionally, as he talked and laughed with Clara Dollmann, what in his innermost thoughts, knowing her father, he felt and meant. It is a point I cannot and would not pursue, and, thank Heaven, it does not matter now; yet, with fuller knowledge of the facts, and, I trust, a mellower judgement, I often return to the same debate, and, by I know not what illogical bypaths, always arrive at the same conclusion, that I liked the man and like him still.
We behaved as sportsmen in the matter of time, giving them over two hours to make up their minds about us. It was only when tobacco smoke and heat brought back my faintness, and a twinge of cramp warned me that human strength has limits, that I rose and said we must go; that I had to make an early start to-morrow. I am hazy about the farewells, but I think that Dollmann was the most cordial, to me at any rate, and I augured good therefrom. Bhme said he should see me again. Von Brning, though bound for the harbour also, considered it was far too early to be going yet, and said good-bye.
'You want to talk us over,' I remember saying, with the last flicker of gaiety I could muster.
We were in the streets again, under a silver, breathless night; dizzily footing the greasy ladder again; in the cabin again, where I collapsed on a sofa just as I was, and slept such a deep and stringent sleep that the men of the Blitz's launch might have handcuffed and trussed and carried me away, without incommoding me in the least.
25 I Double Back
'GOOD-BYE, old chap,' called Davies.
'Good-bye,' the whistle blew and the ferry-steamer forged ahead, leaving Davies on the quay, bareheaded and wearing his old Norfolk jacket and stained grey flannels, as at our first meeting in Flensburg station. There was no bandaged hand this time, but he looked pinched and depressed; his eyes had black circles round them; and again I felt that same indefinable pathos in him.
'Your friend is in low spirits,' said Bhme, who was installed on a seat beside me, voluminously caped and rugged against the biting air. It was a still, sunless day.
'So am I,' I grunted, and it was the literal truth. I was only half awake, felt unwashed and dissipated, heavy in head and limbs. But for Davies I should never have been where I was. It was he who had patiently coaxed me out of my bunk, packed my bag, fed me with tea and an omelette (to which I believe he had devoted peculiarly tender care), and generally mothered me for departure. While I swallowed my second cup he was brushing the mould and smoothing the dents from my felt hat, which had been entombed for a month in the sail-locker; working at it with a remorseful concern in his face. The only initiative I am conscious of having shown was in the matter of my bag. 'Put in my sea clothes, oils, and all,' I had said; 'I may want them again.' There was mortal need of a thorough consultation, but this was out of the question. Davies did not badger or complain, but only timidly asked me how we were to meet and communicate, a question on which my mind was an absolute blank.
'Look out for me about the 26th,' I suggested feebly.
Before we left the cabin he gave me a scrap of pencilled paper and saw that it went safely into my pocket-book. 'Look at it in the train,' he said.
Unable to cope with Bhme, I paced the deck aimlessly as we swung round the See-Gat into the Buse Tief, trying to identify the point where we crossed it yesterday blindfold. But the tide was full, and the waters blank for miles round till they merged in haze. Soon I drifted down into the saloon, and crouching over a stove pulled out that scrap of paper. In a crabbed, boyish hand, and much besmudged with tobacco ashes, I found the following notes:
(1) Your journey. [See Maps A and B.] Norddeich 8.58, Emden 10.32, Leer 11.16 (Bhme changes for Bremen), Rheine 1.8 (change), Amsterdam 7.17 p.m. Leave again via Hook 8.52, London 9 am.
(2) The coast-station—their rondezvous—querry is it Norden? (You pass it 9.13)—there is a tidal creek up to it. High-water there on 25th, say 10.30 to 11 p.m. It cannot be Norddeich, which I find has a dredged-out low-water channel for the steamer, so tide 'serves' would not apply.
(3) Your other clews (tugs, pilots, depths, railway, Esens, seven of something). Querry; Scheme of defence by land and sea for North Sea Coast?
Sea_—7 islands, 7 channels between (counting West Ems), very small depths (what you said) in most of them. Tugs and pilots for patrol work behind islands, as I always said. Querry; Rondezvous is for inspecting channels?
Land_—Look at railway (map in ulster pocket) running in a loop all round Friesland, a few miles from coast. Querry: To be used as line of communication for army corps. Troops could be quickly sent to any threatened point. _Esens_ the base? It is in top centre of loop. Von Brooning dished us fairly over that at Bensersiel.
Chatham_—D. was spying after our naval plans for war with Germany.
Von Brooning runs naval part over here.
Where does Burmer come in? Querry—you go to Breman and find out about him?
I nodded stupidly over this document—so stupidly that I found myself wondering whether Burmer was a place or a person. Then I dozed, to wake with a violent start and find the paper on the floor. Panic-stricken, I hid it away, and went on deck, when I found we were close to Norddeich, running up to the bleakest of bleak jetties thrown out from the dyke-bound polders of the mainland. Bhme and I landed together, and he was at my elbow as I asked for a ticket for Amsterdam, and was given one as far as Rheine, a junction near the Dutch frontier. He was ensconced in an opposite corner to me in the railway carriage, looking like an Indian idol. 'Where do you come in?' I pondered, dreamily. Too sleepy to talk, I could only blink at him, sitting bolt upright with my arms folded over my precious pocket-book. Finally, I gave up the struggle, buttoned my ulster tightly up, and turning my back upon him with an apology, lay down to sleep, the precious pocket nethermost. He was at liberty to rifle my bag if he chose, and I dare say he did. I cannot say, for from this point till Rheine, for the best part of four hours, that is, I had only two lucid intervals.
The first was at Emden, where we both had to change. Here, as we pushed our way down the crowded platform, Bhme, after being greeted respectfully by several persons, was at last buttonholed without means of escape by an obsequious gentleman, whose description is of no moment, but whose conversation is. It was about a canal; what canal I did not gather, though, from a name dropped, I afterwards identified it as one in course of construction as a feeder to the Ems. The point is that the subject was canals. At the moment it was seed dropped in unreceptive soil, but it germinated later. I passed on, mingling with the crowd, and was soon asleep again in another carriage where Bhme this time did not follow me.
The second occasion was at Leer, where I heard myself called by name, and woke to find him at the window. He had to change trains, and had come to say good-bye. 'Don't forget to go to Lloyd's,' he grated in my ear. I expect it was a wan smile that I returned, for I was at a very low ebb, and my fortress looked sarcastically impregnable. But the sapper was free; 'free' was my last conscious thought.
Even after Rheine, where I changed for the last time, a brutish drowsiness enchained me, and the afternoon was well advanced before my faculties began to revive.
The train crept like a snail from station to station. I might, so a fellow-passenger told me, have waited three hours at Rheine for an express which would have brought me to Amsterdam at about the same time; or, if I had chosen to break the journey farther back, two hours at either Emden or Leer would still have enabled me to catch the said express at Rheine. These alternatives had escaped Davies, and, I surmised, had been suppressed by Bhme, who doubtless did not want me behind him, free either to double back or to follow him to Bremen.
The pace, then, was execrable, and there were delays; we were behind time at Hengelo, thirty minutes late at Apeldoorn; so that I might well have grown nervous about my connexions at Amsterdam, which were in some jeopardy. But as I battled out of my lethargy and began to take account of our position and prospects, quite a different thought at the outset affected me. Anxiety to reach London was swamped in reluctance to quit Germany, so that I found myself grudging every mile that I placed between me and the frontier. It was the old question of urgency. To-day was the 23rd. The visit to London meant a minimum absence of forty-eight hours, counting from Amsterdam; that is to say, that by travelling for two nights and one day, and devoting the other day to investigating Dollmann's past, it was humanly possible for me to be back on the Frisian coast on the evening of the 25th. Yes, I could be at Norden, if that was the 'rendezvous', at 7 p.m. But what a scramble! No margin for delays, no physical respite. Some pasts take a deal of raking up—other persons may be affected; men are cautious, they trip you up with red tape; or the man who knows is out at lunch—a protracted lunch; or in the country—a protracted week-end. Will you see Mr So-and-so, or leave a note? Oh! I know those public departments—from the inside! And the Admiralty! ... I saw myself baffled and racing back the same night to Germany, with two days wasted, arriving, good for nothing, at Norden, with no leisure to reconnoitre my ground; to be baffled again there, probably, for you cannot always count on fogs (as Davies said). Esens was another clue, and 'to follow Burmer'—there was something in that notion. But I wanted time, and had I time? How long could Davies maintain himself at Norderney? Not so very long, from what I remembered of last night. And was he even safe there? A feverish dream recurred to me—a dream of Davies in a diving-dress; of a regrettable hitch in the air-supply—Stop, that was nonsense! ... Let us be sane. What matter if he had to go? What matter if I took my time in London? Then with a flood of shame I saw Davies's wistful face on the quay, heard his grim ejaculation: 'He's our game or no one's'; and my own sullen 'Oh, I'll keep the secret!' London was utterly impossible. If I found my informant, what credentials had I, what claim to confidences? None, unless I told the whole story. Why, my mere presence in Whitehall would imperil the secret; for, once on my native heath, I should be recognized—possibly haled to judgement; at the best should escape in a cloud of rumour—'last heard of at Norderney'; 'only this morning was raising Cain at the Admiralty about a mythical lieutenant.' No! Back to Friesland, was the word. One night's rest—I must have that—between sheets, on a feather bed; one long, luxurious night, and then back refreshed to Friesland, to finish our work in our own way, and with none but our own weapons.
Having reached this resolve, I was nearly putting it into instant execution, by alighting at Amersfoort, but thought better of it. I had a transformation to effect before I returned North, and the more populous centre I made it in the less it was likely to attract notice. Besides, I had in my mind's eye a perfect bed in a perfect hostelry hard by the Amstel River. It was an economy in the end.
So, at half-past eight I was sipping my coffee in the aforesaid hostelry, with a London newspaper before me, which was unusually interesting, and some German journals, which, 'in hate of a wrong not theirs', were one and all seething with rancorous Anglophobia. At nine I was in the Jewish quarter, striking bargains in an infamous marine slop-shop. At half-past nine I was despatching this unscrupulous telegram to my chief—'Very sorry, could not call Norderney; hope extension all right; please write to Htel du Louvre, Paris.' At ten I was in the perfect bed, rapturously flinging my limbs abroad in its glorious redundancies. And at 8.28 on the following morning, with a novel chilliness about the upper lip, and a vast excess of strength and spirits, I was sitting in a third-class carriage, bound for Germany, and dressed as a young seaman, in a pea-jacket, peaked cap, and comforter.
The transition had not been difficult. I had shaved off my moustache and breakfasted hastily in my bedroom, ready equipped for a journey in my ulster and cloth cap. I had dismissed the hotel porter at the station, and left my bag at the cloak-room, after taking out of it an umber bundle and substituting the ulster. The umber bundle, which consisted of my oilskins, and within them my sea-boots and a few other garments and necessaries, the whole tied up with a length of tarry rope, was now in the rack above me, and (with a stout stick) represented my luggage. Every article in it—I shudder at their origin—was in strict keeping with my humble mtier, for I knew they were liable to search at the frontier custom-house; but there was a Baedeker of Northern Germany in my jacket pocket.
For the nonce, if questions were asked, I was an English seaman, going to Emden to join a ship, with a ticket as far as the frontier. Beyond that a definite scheme of action had still to be thought out. One thing, however, was sure. I was determined to be at Norden to-morrow night, the 25th. A word about Norden, which is a small town seven miles south of Norddeich. When hurriedly scanning the map for coast stations in the cabin yesterday, I had not thought of Norden, because it did not appear to be on the coast, but Davies had noticed it while I slept, and I now saw that his pencilled hint was a shrewd one. The creek he spoke of, though barely visible on the map, [see Map B] flowed into the Ems Estuary in a south-westerly direction. The 'night train' tallied to perfection, for high tide in the creek would be, as Davies estimated, between 10.30 and 11 p.m. on the night of the 25th; and the time-table showed that the only night train arriving at Norden was one from the south at 10.46 p.m. This looked promising. Emden, which I had inclined to on the spur of the moment, was out of court in comparison, for many reasons; not the least being that it was served by three trains between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m., so that the phrase 'night train' would be ambiguous and not decisive as with Norden.
So far good; but how was I to spend the intervening time? Should I act on Davies's 'querry' and go to Bremen after Bhme? I soon dismissed that idea. It was one to act upon if others failed; for the present it meant another scramble. Bremen is six hours from Norden by rail. I should spend a disproportionate amount of my limited time in trains, and I should want a different disguise. Besides, I had already learnt something fresh about Bhme; for the seed dropped at Emden Station yesterday had come to life. A submarine engineer I knew him to be before; I now knew that canals were another branch of his labours—not a very illuminating fact; but could I pick up more in a single day?
There remained Esens, and it was thither I resolved to go tonight—a tedious journey, lasting till past eight in the evening; but there I should only be an hour from Norden by rail.
And at Esens?
All day long I strove for light on the central mystery, collecting from my diary, my memory, my imagination, from the map, the time-table, and Davies's grubby jottings, every elusive atom of material. Sometimes I issued from a reverie with a start, to find a phlegmatic Dutch peasant staring strangely at me over his china pipe. I was more careful over the German border. Davies's paper I soon knew by heart. I pictured him writing it with his cramped fist in his corner by the stove, fighting against sleep, absently striking salvos of matches, while 1 snored in my bunk; absently diverging into dreams, I knew, of a rose-brown face under dewy hair and a grey tam-o'-shanter; though not a word of her came into the document. I smiled to see his undying faith in the 'channel theory' reconciled at the eleventh hour, with new data touching the neglected 'land'.
The result was certainly interesting, but it left me cold. That there existed in the German archives some such scheme of defence for the North Sea coast was very likely indeed. The seven islands, with their seven shallow channels (though, by the way, two of them, the twin branches of the Ems, are by no means so shallow), were a very fair conjecture, and fitted in admirably with the channel theory, whose intrinsic merits I had always recognized; my constant objection having been that it did not go nearly far enough to account for our treatment. The ring of railway round the peninsula, with Esens at the apex, was suggestive, too; but the same objection applied. Every country with a maritime frontier has, I suppose, secret plans of mobilization for its defence, but they are not such as could be discovered by passing travellers, not such as would warrant stealthy searches, or require for their elaboration so recondite a meeting-place as Memmert. Dollmann was another weak point; Dollmann in England, spying. All countries, Germany included, have spies in their service, dirty though necessary tools; but Dollmann in such intimate association with the principal plotters on this side; Dollmann rich, influential, a power in local affairs—it was clear he was no ordinary spy.
And here I detected a hesitation in Davies's rough sketch, a reluctance, as it were, to pursue a clue to its logical end. He spoke of a German scheme of coast defence, and in the next breath of Dollmann spying for English plans in the event of war with Germany, and there he left the matter; but what sort of plans? Obviously (if he was on the right track) plans of attack on the German coast as opposed to those of strategy on the high seas. But what sort of an attack? Obviously again, if his railway-ring meant anything, an attack by invasion on that remote and desolate littoral which he had so often himself declared to be impregnably secure behind its web of sands and shallows. My mind went back to my question at Bensersiel, 'Can this coast be invaded?' to his denial and our fruitless survey of the dykes and polders. Was he now reverting to a fancy we had both rejected, while shrinking from giving it explicit utterance? The doubt was tantalizing.
A brief digression here about the phases of my journey. At Rheine 1 changed trains, turned due north and became a German seaman. There was little risk in a defective accent—sailors are so polyglot; while an English sailor straying about Esens might excite curiosity. Yesterday I had paid no heed to the landscape; to-day I neglected nothing that could conceivably supply a hint.
From Rheine to Emden we descended the valley of the Ems; at first through a land of thriving towns and fat pastures, degenerating farther north to spaces of heathery bog and moorland—a sad country, but looking at its best, such as that was, for I should mention here that the weather, which in the early morning had been as cold and misty as ever, grew steadily milder and brighter as the day advanced; while my newspaper stated that the glass was falling and the anticyclone giving way to pressure from the Atlantic.
At Emden, where we entered Friesland proper, the train crossed a big canal, and for the twentieth time that day (for we had passed numbers of them in Holland, and not a few in Germany), I said to myself, 'Canals, canals. Where does Bhme come in?' It was dusk, but light enough to see an unfamiliar craft, a torpedo-boat in fact, moored to stakes at one side. In a moment I remembered that page in the North Sea Pilot where the Ems-Jade Canal is referred to as deep enough to carry gun-boats, and as used for that strategic purpose between Wilhelmshaven and Emden, along the base, that is, of the Frisian peninsula. I asked a peasant opposite; yes, that was the Ems-Jade Canal. Had Davies forgotten it? It would have greatly strengthened his halting sketch.
At the bookstall at Emden I bought a pocket ordnance map [There is. of course, no space to reproduce this, but here and henceforward the reader is referred to Map B.] of Friesland, on a much larger scale than anything I had used before, and when I was unobserved studied the course of the canal, with an impatience which, alas! quickly cooled. From Emden northwards I used the same map to aid my eyesight, and with its help saw in the gathering gloom more heaths and bogs once a great glimmering lake, and at intervals cultivated tracts; a watery land as ever; pools, streams and countless drains and ditches, Extensive woods were marked also, but farther inland. We passed Norden at seven, just dark. I looked out for the creek, and sure enough, we crossed it just before entering the station. Its bed was nearly dry, and I distinguished barges lying aground in it. This being the junction for Esens, I had to wait three-quarters of an hour, and then turned east through the uttermost northern wilds, stopping at occasional village stations and keeping five or six miles from the sea. It was during this stage, in a wretchedly lit compartment, and alone for the most part, that I finally assembled all my threads and tried to weave them into a cable whose core should be Esens; 'a town', so Baedeker said, 'of 3,500 inhabitants, the centre of a rich agricultural district. Fine spire.'
Esens is four miles inland from Bensersiel. I reviewed every circumstance of that day at Bensersiel, and boiled to think how von Brning had tricked me. He had driven to Esens himself, and read me so well that he actually offered to take me with him, and I had refused from excess of cleverness. Stay, though; if I had happened to accept he would have taken very good care that I saw nothing important. The secret, therefore, was not writ large on the walls of Esens. Was it connected with Bensersiel too, or the country between? I searched the ordnance map again, standing up to get a better light and less jolting. There was the road northwards from Esens to Bensersiel, passing through dots and chess-board squares, the former meaning fen, the latter fields, so the reference said. Something else, too, immediately caught my eye, and that was a stream running to Bensersiel. I knew it at once for the muddy stream or drain we had seen at the harbour, issuing through the sluice or siel from which Bensersiel took its name. But it arrested my attention now because it looked more prominent than I should have expected. Charts are apt to ignore the geography of the mainland, except in so far as it offers sea-marks to mariners. On the chart this stream had been shown as a rough little corkscrew, like a sucking-pig's tail. On the ordnance map it was marked with a dark blue line, was labelled 'Benser Tief', and was given a more resolute course; bends became angles, and there were what appeared to be artificial straightnesses at certain points. One of the threads in my skein, the canal thread, tingled sympathetically, like a wire charged with current. Standing astraddle on both seats, with the map close to the lamp, I greedily followed the course of the 'tief' southward. It inclined away from the road to Esens and passed the town about a mile to the west, diving underneath the railway. Soon after it took angular tacks to the eastward, and joined another blue line trending south-east, and lettered 'Esens—Wittmunde Canal.' This canal, however, came to an abrupt end halfway to Wittmund, a neighbouring town.
For the first time that day there came to me a sense of genuine inspiration. Those shallow depths and short distances, fractions of metres and kilometres, which I had overheard from Bhme's lips at Memmert, and which Davies had attributed to the outside channels—did they refer to a canal? I remembered seeing barges in Bensersiel harbour. I remembered conversations with the natives in the inn, scraps of the post-master's pompous loquacity, talks of growing trade, of bricks and grain passing from the interior to the islands: from another source—was it the grocer of Wangeroog?—of expansion of business in the islands themselves as bathing resorts; from another source again—von Brning himself, surely—of Dollmann's personal activity in the development of the islands. In obscure connexion with these things, I saw the torpedo-boat in the Ems-Jade Canal.
It was between Dornum and Esens that these ideas came, and I was still absorbed in them when the train drew up, just upon nine o'clock, at my destination, and after ten minutes' walk, along with a handful of other passengers, I found myself in the quiet cobbled streets of Esens, with the great church steeple, that we had so often seen from the sea, soaring above me in the moonlight.
26 The Seven Siels
SELECTING the very humblest Gasthaus I could discover, I laid down my bundle and called for beer, bread, and Wurst. The landlord, as I had expected, spoke the Frisian dialect, so that though he was rather difficult to understand, he had no doubts about the purity of my own German high accent. He was a worthy fellow, and hospitably interested: 'Did I want a bed?' 'No; I was going on to Bensersiel,' I said, 'to sleep there, and take the morning Postschiff to Langeoog Island.' (I had not forgotten our friends the twin giants and their functions.) 'I was not an islander myself?' he asked. 'No, but I had a married sister there; had just returned from a year's voyaging, and was going to visit her.' 'By the way,' I asked, 'how are they getting on with the Benser Tief?' My friend shrugged his shoulders; it was finished, he believed. 'And the connexion to Wittmund?' 'Under construction still.' 'Langeoog would be going ahead then?' 'Oh! he supposed so, but he did not believe in these new-fangled schemes.' 'But it was good for trade, I supposed? Esens would benefit in sending goods by the "tief"—what was the traffic, by the way?' 'Oh, a few more barge-loads than before of bricks, timber, coals, etc., but it would come to nothing he knew: Aktiengesellschaften (companies) were an invention of the devil. A few speculators got them up and made money themselves out of land and contracts, while the shareholders they had hoodwinked starved.' 'There's something in that,' I conceded to this bigoted old conservative; 'my sister at Langeoog rents her lodging-house from a man named Dollmann; they say he owns a heap of land about. I saw his yacht once—pink velvet and electric light inside. they say—'
'That's the name,' said mine host, 'that's one of them—some sort of foreigner, I've heard; runs a salvage concern, too, Juist way.'
'Well, he won't get any of my savings!' I laughed, and soon after took my leave, and inquired from a passer-by the road to Dornum. 'Follow the railway,' I was told.
With a warm wind in my face from the south-west, fleecy clouds and a half-moon overhead, I set out, not for Bensersiel but for Benser Tief, which I knew must cross the road to Dornum somewhere. A mile or so of cobbled causeway flanked with ditches and willows, and running cheek by jowl with the railway track; then a bridge, and below me the 'Tief'; which was, in fact, a small canal. A rutty track left the road, and sloped down to it one side; a rough siding left the railway, and sloped down to it on the other.
I lit a pipe and sat on the parapet for a little. No one was stirring, so with great circumspection I began to reconnoitre the left bank to the north. The siding entered a fenced enclosure by a locked gate—a gate I could have easily climbed, but I judged it wiser to go round by the bridge again and look across. The enclosure was a small coal-store, nothing more; there were gaunt heaps of coal glittering in the moonlight; a barge half loaded lying alongside, and a deserted office building. I skulked along a sandy towpath in solitude. Fens and field were round me, as the map had said; willows and osier-beds; the dim forms of cattle; the low melody of wind roaming unfettered over a plain; once or twice the flutter and quack of a startled wild-duck.
Presently I came to a farmhouse, dark and silent; opposite it, in the canal, a couple of empty barges. I climbed into one of these, and sounded with my stick on the off-side—barely three feet; and the torpedo-boat melted out of my speculations. The stream, I observed also, was only just wide enough for two barges to pass with comfort. Other farms I saw, or thought I saw, and a few more barges lying in side-cuts linked by culverts to the canal, but nothing noteworthy; and mindful that I had to explore the Wittmund side of the railway too, I turned back, already a trifle damped in spirits, but still keenly expectant.
Passing under the road and railway, I again followed the tow-path, which, after half a mile, plunged into woods, then entered a clearing and another fenced enclosure; a timber-yard by the look of it. This time I stripped from the waist downward, waded over, dressed again, and climbed the paling. (There was a cottage standing back, but its occupants evidently slept.) I was in a timber-yard, by the stacks of wood and the steam saw-mill; but something more than a timber-yard, for as I warily advanced under the shadow of the trees at the edge of the clearing I came to a long tin shed which strangely reminded me of Memmert, and below it, nearer the canal, loomed a dark skeleton framework, which proved to be a half-built vessel on stocks. Close by was a similar object, only nearly completed—a barge. A paved slipway led to the water here, and the canal broadened to a siding or back-water in which lay seven or eight more barges in tiers. I scaled another paling and went on, walking, I should think, three miles by the side of the canal, till the question of bed and ulterior plans brought me to a halt. It was past midnight, and I was adding little to my information. I had encountered a brick-field, but soon after that there was increasing proof that the canal was as yet little used for traffic. In grew narrower, and there were many signs of recent labour for its improvement. In one place a dammed-off deviation was being excavated, evidently to abridge an impossible bend. The path had become atrocious, and my boots were heavy with clay. Bearing in mind the abruptly-ending blue line on the map, I considered it useless to go farther, and retraced my steps, trying to concoct a story which would satisfy an irritable Esens inn-keeper that it was a respectable wayfarer, and not a tramp or a lunatic, who knocked him up at half-past one or thereabouts.
But a much more practical resource occurred to me as I approached the timber-yard; for lodging, free and accessible, lay there ready to hand. I boarded one of the empty barges in the backwater, and surveyed my quarters for the night. It was of a similar pattern to all the others I had seen; a lighter, strictly, in the sense that it had no means of self-propulsion, and no separate quarters for a crew, the whole interior of the hull being free for cargo. At both bow and stern there were ten feet or so of deck, garnished with bitts and bollards. The rest was an open well, flanked by waterways of substantial breadth; the whole of stout construction and, for a humble lighter, of well-proportioned and even graceful design, with a marked forward sheer, and, as I had observed in the specimen on the stocks, easy lines at the stern. In short, it was apparent, even to an ignorant landsman like myself, that she was designed not merely for canal work but for rough water; and well she might be, for, though the few miles of sea she had to cross in order to reach the islands were both shallow and sheltered, I knew from experience what a vicious surf they could be whipped into by a sudden gale. It must not be supposed that I dwelt on this matter. On limited lines I was making progress, but the wings of imagination still drooped nervelessly at my sides. Otherwise I perhaps should have examined this lighter more particularly, instead of regarding it mainly as a convenient hiding-place. Under the stern-deck was stored a massive roll of tarpaulin, a corner of which made an excellent blanket, and my bundle a good pillow. It was a descent from the luxury of last night; but a spy, I reflected philosophically, cannot expect a feather bed two nights running, and this one was at any rate airier and roomier than the coffin-like bunk of the Dulcibella, and not so very much harder.
When snugly ensconced, I studied the map by intermittent match-light. It had been dawning on me in the last half-hour that this canal was only one of several; that in concentrating myself on Esens and Bensersiel, I had forgotten that there were other villages ending in siel, also furnished on the chart with corkscrew streams; and, moreover, that Bhme's statistics of depth and distance had been marshalled in seven categories, A to G. The very first match brought full recollection as to the villages. The suffix siel repeated itself all round the coast-line. Five miles eastward of Bensersiel was Neuharlingersiel, and farther on Carolinensiel. Four miles westward was Dornumersiel; and farther on Nessmersiel and Hilgenriedersiel. That was six on the north coast of the peninsula alone. On the west coast, facing the Ems, there was only one, Greetsiel, a good way south of Norden. But on the east, facing the Jade, there were no less than eight, at very close intervals. A moment's thought and I disregarded this latter group; they had nothing to do with Esens, nor had they any imaginable raison d'tre as veins for commerce; differing markedly in this respect from the group of six on the north coast, whose outlook was the chain of islands, and whose inland centre, almost exactly, was Esens. I still wanted one to make seven, and as a working hypothesis added the solitary Greetsiel. At all seven villages streams debouched, as at Bensersiel. From all seven points of issue dotted lines were marked seaward, intersecting the great tidal sands and leading towards the islands. And on the mainland behind the whole sevenfold system ran the loop of railway. But there were manifold minor points of difference. No stream boasted so deep and decisive a blue lintel as did Benser Tief; none penetrated so far into the Hinterland. They varied in length and sinuosity. Two, those belonging to Hilgenriedersiel and Greetsiel, appeared not to reach the railway at all. On the other hand, Carolinensiel, opposite Wangeroog Island, had a branch line all to itself.
Match after match waxed and waned as I puzzled over the mystic seven. In the end I puzzled myself to sleep, with the one fixed idea that to-morrow, on my way back to Norden, I must see more of these budding canals, if such they were. My dreams that night were of a mighty chain of redoubts and masked batteries couching perdus among the sand-dunes of desolate islets; built, coral-like, by infinitely slow and secret labour; fed by lethal cargoes borne in lighters and in charge of stealthy mutes who, one and all, bore the likeness of Grimm. I was up and away at daylight (the weather mild and showery), meeting some navvies on my way back to the road, who gave me good morning and a stare. On the bridge I halted and fell into torments of indecision. There was so much to do and so little time to do it in. The whole problem seemed to have been multiplied by seven, and the total again doubled and redoubled—seven blue lines on land, seven dotted lines on the sea, seven islands in the offing. Once I was near deciding to put my pretext into practice, and cross to Langeoog; but that meant missing the rendezvous, and I was loth to do that.
At any rate, I wanted breakfast badly; and the best way to get it, and at the same time to open new ground, was to walk to Dornum. Then I should find a blue line called the Neues Tief leading to Dornumersiel, on the coast. That explored, I could pass on to Nesse, where there was another blue line to Nessmersiel. All this was on the way to Norden, and I should have the railway constantly at my back, to carry me there in the evening. The last train (my time-table told me) was one reaching Norden at 7.15 p.m. I could catch this at Hage Station at 7.5.
A brisk walk of six miles brought me, ravenously hungry, to Dornum. Road and railway had clung together all the time, and about half-way had been joined on the left by a third companion in the shape of a puny stream which I knew from the map to be the upper portion of Neues Tief. Wriggling and doubling like an eel, choked with sedges and reeds, it had no pretensions to being navigable. At length it looped away into the fens out of sight, only to reappear again close to Dornum in a much more dignified guise.
There was no siding where the railway crossed it, but at the town itself, which it skirted on the east, a towpath began, and a piled wharf had been recently constructed. Going on to this was a red-brick building with the look of a warehouse, roofless as yet, and with workmen on its scaffolds. It sharpened the edge of my appetite.
If I had been wise I should have been content with a snack bought at a counter, but a thirst for hot coffee and clues induced me to repeat the experiment of Esens and seek a primitive beer-house. I was less lucky on this occasion. The house I chose was obscure enough, but its proprietor was no simple Frisian, but an ill-looking rascal with shifty eyes and a debauched complexion, who showed a most unwelcome curiosity in his customer. As a last fatality, he wore a peaked cap like my own, and turned out to be an ex-sailor. I should have fled at the sight of him had I had the chance, but I was attended to first by a slatternly girl who, I am sure, called him up to view me. To explain my muddy boots and trousers I said I had walked from Esens, and from that I found myself involved in a tangle of impromptu lies. Floundering down an old groove, I placed my sister this time on Baltrum Island, and said I was going to Dornumersiel (which is opposite Baltrum) to cross from there. As this was drawing a bow at a venture, I dared not assume local knowledge, and spoke of the visit as my first. Dornumersiel was a lucky shot; there was a ferry-galliot from there to Baltrum; but he knew, or pretended to know, Baltrum, and had not heard of my sister. I grew the more nervous in that I saw from the first that he took me to be of better condition than most merchant seamen; and, to make matters worse, I was imprudent enough in pleading haste to pull out from an inner pocket my gold watch with the chain and seals attached. He told me there was no hurry, that I should miss the tide at Dornumersiel, and then fell to pressing strong waters on me, and asking questions whose insinuating grossness gave me the key to his biography: He must have been at one stage in his career a dock-side crimp, one of those foul sharks who prey on discharged seamen, and as often as not are ex-seamen themselves, versed in the weaknesses of the tribe. He was now keeping his hand in with me, who, unhappily, purported to belong to the very class he was used to victimize, and, moreover, had a gold watch, and, doubtless, a full purse. Nothing more ridiculously inopportune could have befallen me, or more dangerous; for his class are as cosmopolitan as waiters and concierges, with as facile a gift for language and as unerring a scent for nationality. Sure enough, the fellow recognized mine, and positively challenged me with it in fairly fluent English with a Yankee twang. Encumbered with the mythical sister, of course I stuck to my lie, said I had been on an English ship so long that I had picked up the accent, and also gave him some words in broken English. At the same time I showed I thought him an impertinent nuisance, paid my score and walked out—quit of him? Not a bit of it! He insisted on showing me the way to Dornumersiel, and followed me down the street. Perceiving that he was in liquor, in spite of the early hour, I dared not risk a quarrelsome scene with a man who already knew so much about me, and might at any moment elicit more. So I melted, and humoured him; treated him in a ginshop in the hope of giving him the slip—a disastrous resource, which was made a precedent for further potations elsewhere. I would gladly draw a veil over our scandalous progress through peaceable Dornum, of the terrors I experienced when he introduced me as his friend, and as his English friend, and of the abasement I felt, too, as, linked arm in arm, we trod the three miles of road coastwards. It was his malicious whim that we should talk English; a fortunate whim, as it turned out, because I knew no fo'c'sle German, but had a smattering of fo'c'sle English, gathered from Cutcliffe Hyne and Kipling. With these I extemporized a disreputable hybrid, mostly consisting of oaths and blasphemies, and so yarned of imaginary voyages. Of course he knew every port in the world, but happily was none too critical, owing to repeated schnappsen.
Nevertheless, it was a deplorable contretemps from every point of view. I was wasting my time, for the road took a different direction to the Neues Tief, so that I had not even the advantage of inspecting the canal and only met with it when we reached the sea. Here it split into two mouths, both furnished with locks, and emptying into two little mud-hole harbours, replicas of Bensersiel, each owning its cluster of houses. I made straight for the Gasthaus at Dornumersiel, primed my companion well, and asked him to wait while I saw about a boat in the harbour; but, needless to say, I never rejoined him. I just took a cursory look at the left-hand harbour, saw a lighter locking through (for the tide was high), and then walked as fast as my legs would carry me to the outermost dyke, mounted it, and strode along the sea westwards in the teeth of a smart shower of rain, full of deep apprehensions as to the stir and gossip my disappearance might cause if my odious crimp was sober enough to discover it. As soon as I deemed it safe, I dropped on to the sand and ran till I could run no more. Then I sat on my bundle with my back to the dyke in partial shelter from the rain, watching the sea recede from the flats and dwindle into slender meres, and the laden clouds fly weeping over the islands till those pale shapes were lost in mist.
The barge I had seen locking through was creeping across towards Langeoog behind a tug and a wisp of smoke.
No more exploration by daylight! That was my first resolve, for I felt as if the country must be ringing with reports of an Englishman in disguise. I must remain in hiding till dusk, then regain the railway and slink into that train to Norden. Now directly I began to resign myself to temporary inaction, and to centre my thoughts on the rendezvous, a new doubt assailed me. Nothing had seemed more certain yesterday than that Norden was the scene of the rendezvous, but that was before the seven siels had come into prominence. The name Norden now sounded naked and unconvincing. As I wondered why, it suddenly occurred to me that all the stations along this northern line, though farther inland than Norden, were equally 'coast stations', in the sense that they were in touch with harbours (of a sort) on the coast. Norden had its tidal creek, but Esens and Dornum had their 'tiefs' or canals. Fool that I had been to put such a narrow and literal construction on the phrase 'the tide serves!' Which was it more likely that my conspirators would visit—Norden, whose intrusion into our theories was purely hypothetical, or one of these siels to whose sevenfold systems all my latest observations gave such transcendent significance?
There was only one answer; and it filled me with profound discouragement. Seven possible rendezvous!—eight, counting Norden. Which to make for? Out came the time-table and map, and with them hope. The case was not so bad after all; it demanded no immediate change of plan, though it imported grave uncertainties and risks. Norden was still the objective, but mainly as a railway junction, only remotely as a seaport. Though the possible rendezvous were eight, the possible stations were reduced to five—Norden, Hage, Dornum, Esens, Wittmund—all on one single line. Trains from east to west along this line were negligible, because there were none that could be called night trains, the latest being the one I had this morning fixed on to bring me to Norden, where it arrived at 7.15. Of trains from west to east there was only one that need be considered, the same one that I had travelled by last night, leaving Norden at 7.43 and reaching Esens at 8.50, and Wittmund at 9.13. This train, as the reader who was with me in it knows, was in correspondence with another from Emden and the south, and also, I now found, with services from Hanover, Bremen, and Berlin. He will also remember that I had to wait three-quarters of an hour at Norden, from 7 to 7.43.
The platform at Norden Junction, therefore, between 7.15, when I should arrive at it from the east, and 7.43 when Bhme and his unknown friend should leave it for the east; there, and in that half-hour, was my opportunity for recognizing and shadowing two at least of the conspirators. I must take the train they took, and alight where they alighted. If I could not find them at all I should be thrown back on the rejected view that Norden itself was the rendezvous, and should wait there till 10.46.
In the meantime it was all very well to resolve on inaction till dusk; but after an hour's rest, damp clothes and feet, and the absence of pursuers, tempted me to take the field again. Avoiding roads and villages as long as it was light, I cut across country south-westwards—a dismal and laborious journey, with oozy fens and knee-deep drains to course, with circuits to be made to pass clear of peasants, and many furtive crouchings behind dykes and willows. What little I learnt was in harmony with previous explorations, for my track cut at right angles the line of the Harke Tief, the stream issuing at Nessmersiel. It, too, was in the nature of a canal, but only in embryo at the point I touched it, south of Nesse. Works on a deviation were in progress, and in a short digression down stream I sighted another lighter-building yard. As for Hilgenriedersiel, the fourth of the seven, I had no time to see anything of it at all. At seven o'clock I was at Hage Station, very tired, wet, and footsore, after covering nearly twenty miles all told since I left my bed in the lighter.
From here to Norden it was a run in the train of ten minutes, which I spent in eating some rye bread and smoked eel, and in scraping the mud off my boots and trousers. Fatigue vanished when the train drew up at the station, and the momentous twenty-eight minutes began to run their course. Having donned a bulky muffler and turned up the collar of my pea-jacket, I crossed over immediately to the up-platform, walked boldly to the booking-office, and at once sighted—von Brning—yes, von Brning in mufti; but there was no mistaking his tall athletic figure, pleasant features, and neat brown beard. He was just leaving the window, gathering up a ticket and some coins. I joined a queue of three or four persons who were waiting their turn, flattened myself between them and the partition till I heard him walk out. Not having heard what station he had booked for, I took a fourth-class ticket to Wittmund, which covered all chances. Then, with my chin buried in my muffler, I sought the darkest corner of the ill-lit combination of bar and waiting-room where, by the tiresome custom in Germany, would-be travellers are penned till their train is ready. Von Brning I perceived sitting in another corner, with his hat over his eyes and a cigar between his lips. A boy brought me a tankard of tawny Munich beer, and, sipping it, I watched. People passed in and out, but nobody spoke to the sailor in mufti. When a quarter of an hour elapsed, a platform door opened, and a raucous voice shouted: 'Hage, Dornum, Esens, Wittmund!' A knot of passengers jostled out to the platform, showing their tickets. I was slow over my beer, and was last of the knot, with von Brning immediately ahead of me, so close that his cigar smoke curled into my face. I looked over his shoulder at the ticket he showed, missed the name, but caught a muttered double sibilant from the official who checked it; ran over the stations in my head, and pounced on Esens. That was as much I wanted to know for the present; so I made my way to a fourth-class compartment, and lost sight of my quarry, not venturing, till the last door had banged, to look out of the window. When I did so two late arrivals were hurrying up to a carriage—one tall, one of middle height; both in cloaks and comforters. Their features I could not distinguish, but certainly neither of them was Bhme. They had not come through the waiting-room door, but, plainly, from the dark end of the platform, where they had been waiting. A guard, with some surly remonstrances, shut them in, and the train started.
Esens—the name had not surprised me; it fulfilled a presentiment that had been growing in strength all the afternoon. For the last time I referred to the map, pulpy and blurred with the day's exposure, and tried to etch it into my brain. I marked the road to Bensersiel, and how it converged by degrees on the Benser Tief until they met at the sea. 'The tide serves!' Longing for Davies to help me, I reckoned, by the aid of my diary, that high tide at Bensersiel would be about eleven, and for two hours, I remembered (say from ten to twelve to-night), there were from five to six feet of water in the harbour.
We should reach Esens at 8.50. Would they drive, as von Brning had done a week ago? I tightened my belt, stamped my mud-burdened boots, and thanked God for the Munich beer. Whither were they going from Bensersiel, and in what; and how was I to follow them? These were nebulous questions, but I was in fettle for anything; boat-stealing was a bagatelle. Fortune, I thought, smiled; Romance beckoned; even the sea looked kind. Ay, and I do not know but that Imagination was already beginning to unstiffen and flutter those nerveless wings.